Cut Off

According to Paul Theroux, in his book on Oceania, there are communities that are almost entirely self sufficient. Interestingly, these are the communities (villages actually and in some cases, entire islands) that are cut-off from civilization. World War II had a dramatic impact on many of these islands, since they were first invaded by the Japanese and then by the Americans. The disruption lasted for quite some time, because of the initial crop loss and inability to continue their traditional methods of living and then when the invaders pulled out, the sudden loss of their food supply they had come to depend upon.

In time, many of the smaller, remote communities returned to their kastam (traditional) way of living, which is comprised of fishing, gardening and gleaning food stuffs from their natural surroundings. These villages have little demand for outside support and are almost entirely self sufficient. But the villages that aren’t cut off remained dependent on outside inputs of food, fuel and essentials. Their traditional ways were totally or partly abandoned and they lost the self sufficiency that they once had.

What’s noteworthy regarding this is how civilization creates entire layers of dependency spanning traditional cultures, undermining the heritage, practice and ancient knowledge. The long term affects are of course in widespread evidence, even here in America, where indigenous people have become entirely dependent upon outside energy inputs of all types in order to survive. I don’t know if anyone has ever attempted to measure what the global impact is, but it must be extremely significant, since indigenous and self sufficient peoples were once found everywhere. The fact that few still survive in relative numbers doesn’t say much for the advancement of civilization.

It would be very hard for a Westerner to live completely cut off from civilization, but there are people who do it, with almost all of them being born into that culture. They don’t live long, averaging about 45 years of age, which is considered to be “old”. This is because of disease mostly, not hard work or malnutrition. Their lives are idyllic compared to ours, with no particular set schedules, moving to the rythms of the seasons. There are no concrete and glass building, no work schedules and no employers. Their daily lives are much different then ours, bound by tradition, superstition and ancient practices, worked out through centuries of isolated living.

Some Westerners practice a sort of self-imposed cut off by hermiting themselves in various cloisters and retreats, found all over the world. Most require a type of severe discipline, refraining from cultural enticements like electricity, fast food, television or outsiders. But they’re not really indigenous in their practice, but rather self ordered lives of discipline, regimentation and restrictions. Essentially, their efforts are artificial barriers, most often designed to build a fabricated wall between themselves and the outside world. The difference here are many, their retreating from the modern world as opposed to having never lived it. Because of that, they have a greater difficulty in surviving and adhering to the self-imposed isolation, inadverdantly bringing with them vestiges of their cultural.

I’ve visited a Benedictine nonastery, staying overnight. The austure surroundings were just fine by me, but the monks didn’t seem happy. They appeared to be working too hard to act like they had something I didn’t. They also allowed in a lot of outsiders, even having public dorms, which is where I stayed. My visit was disappointing to be honest.

Most cultures, once exposed to the outside world, become tainted with the surrounding cultures wealth, beliefs and customs. Missionaries from around the world have made gigantic impacts into traditional cultures, leaving almost no part of the world untouched, bringing with them (besides their bibles) their Western customs and materialism. The impact is felt almost immediately and it’s long lasting, and many times permanent.

The lasting damage done to kastam, traditional culture is to create a cycle of dependency where none used to exist. Some villages refuse all outsiders and have manage to retain their traditional ways and their independence But where civilization manages to touch them, they become infected with the same western values, traditions and materialism we have and lose their self sufficient ways.

Remaining cut off then, becomes of paramount importance in order for these indigenous peoples to retain their traditional cultures and to teach them, generation by generation to their children. This is also true of even Western cultures that intend to remain static (and some do, such as the Amish). The only way to resist the dominant culture is to refuse it.

What this means is that a culture change of significance, rejecting the materialism, greed, consumption, expectations and demands boils down to the refusal of participation and allowance into your life. This applies to individuals, tribes, communities and villages. But it is almost impossible to do unless you can somehow remain cut off.

Most traditional villages don’t accept outsiders for this very reason. What you might be looking to find, a traditional way of living, is the very thing they are seeking to protect and they won’t welcome you into their midst. This makes the idea of “leaving the world behind” and finding your own private paradise exceedingly difficult. There is almost no place untouched by modern civilization and those that are, you’re not welcome there.

I don’t have an answer for this except to comment that “wherever you go, there you are” meaning that you take your culture with you, even if you don’t want to, and others can easily see this. If your looking for a new paradigm of living, you’ll have to carve it out somewhere.


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